By Arielle Goldman
Music is the universal language. It is the one, beautiful thing that brings all of humanity together because it does not judge. It does not stereotype. It does not hate. It simply provokes joy and community for all while always permitting every person to bask in its wonderful and pure beauty. Music speaks to an internal place inside, traveling down to the soul and engulfing the body in a feeling of fascination and love; it places the listener into a utopian world of complete serenity where pain and suffering is no longer something to hide, but something to express to let others know that they are not alone. Music is curved lips, a tapping foot, a clapping hand, and a boasting tongue. It is the medicine of the mind, and the pandemic has taken its full potential away. Therefore, what has the Byram Hills community done to overcome this issue?
The arts department at the High School has always been spectacular. The students are immensely talented as evidenced by the work displayed in the art show (which was online this year) and the performances at the numerous shows, including those of musical theatre and those put on by the band, choir, and orchestra. Before the pandemic hit, these displays of work would happen very frequently, and the talented kids could share what they had worked on with a large audience, something they really enjoyed doing. Now, not only is it hard or against the COVID-19 restrictions to practice music in school, but these kids are missing out on the opportunity to perform and express their hard work and talent. Nevertheless, the students have continued to play and/or sing music in a whole new way with optimistic minds. They refused to let the pandemic fully stop them from doing what they love, so adjustments were made. Although it is not what it could have been, the students and teachers of the arts have done a fantastic job of changing the curriculum and practicing music in a way that complies with the guidelines, and the results have been very interesting.
For example, Bailey Goldstein, a senior who has been in the band since freshman year expressed, “Because we aren’t able to play inside the school, we started to play outside on the bleachers, which has some inconveniences. For example, we have to move the instruments and stands each day we play, which is a major limiting factor to getting maximal playing time. Also, the wind makes it extremely difficult to keep music in place. Because many people knew that band would be very difficult this year, a lot of members didn’t return and took a different elective instead, and along with only having half the band, losing members has created a considerable gap in the full sound we normally produce. However, although the conditions for normal band class are not the same, we still persevere and do the best we can to intertwine a non-stressful period with musical talent. I am really happy that we still have the opportunity to pursue our musical talents, something that is very important to everyone involved.” While struggling to adapt and persevere through the difficult time, Bailey and the rest of the band have remained appreciative that they can play at all and hopeful that they will be able to continue making music in the future. These struggles may force students to realize that they truly can overcome anything that comes their way and come back even stronger.
Additionally, the choir and jazz choir had to readjust the way they were making music, especially since the COVID-19 guidelines entailed that there would be no singing indoors, even while wearing masks. Ben Goldman, a junior that has been in the choir for three years and a new jazz choir member claimed, “I think that Mr. Piali has done as good of a job as possible in terms of keeping the choir experience during the pandemic. Obviously, it’s not the same as pre-pandemic choir, but we are still able to sing as a large group outside on the fields. Of course the fall weather is nice, but I am worried about what happens in the winter. As for jazz choir, we’ve been singing via Zoom, and it’s been good, but jazz is a small group so why not take advantage of the good weather and meet up outside? Overall though, it’s been a smooth transition to socially distanced choir.” While singing outside is a great opportunity, it can also be very hard to hear others while singing, which is very important in choir since the four different parts (sometimes more) are supposed to balance and blend with one another. Also, like many other things now, the choir is taking things day by day since no one knows how plans will change in the winter.
Along different lines, the orchestra has been able to play in school since it does not involve excessive blowing or singing, which can spread the virus more quickly. However, it has been a challenging experience; the whole orchestra is not there at the same time since the school is in a hybrid schedule. Playing in a small group can be intimidating while also difficult. Sydni Shamus, a sophomore, stated that being in the orchestra has made her realize that “more than ever before, we have to appreciate and use the time we have in school because it is so scarce. We are so lucky that we are even allowed to be playing as an ensemble in the school because of COVID.” COVID-19, while having terrible and horrifying consequences, has also made students realize how lucky they have been to go to school, sit in a classroom with their friends, eat lunch in the cafeteria, and more importantly, do music.
During these hard times, teachers and students in the arts have remained positive and have worked through challenges that have kept them from making music in extraordinary ways. Byram Hills has and will continue to fight! Students have been immensely strong and cooperative, and teachers have been extremely creative while adapting to the new way of teaching. Music is the universal language that provokes joy and community, no matter what comes in its way!